AN IRISH couple who had twins using a commercial surrogacy clinic in India have spoken of their "dilemma" and regrets that a viable embryo with a heartbeat was aborted to allow the birth of their twins.
Fiona Whyte and her partner Sean Malone travelled to India last year to start a family via surrogacy after five years of failed IVF treatment that cost €30,000. Fiona (52), works as an Inspector Manager for the Health Information and Quality Authority, and Sean (53), does contract work for Eircom.
The couple, from west Clare, who both have children from previous relationships,paid €25,000 to a clinic in Mumbai to facilitate the birth of twins -- a boy and a girl -- through an impoverished young surrogate.
Tonight an hour-long documentary will be screened on RTE detailing the couple's plight and that of surrogates living "hand-to-mouth" in India.
The film, which exposes the lack of regulation of IVF and surrogacy in Ireland, will reignite a heated debate about the status of embryos and parentage ahead of a landmark Supreme Court hearing on issues surrounding children born under surrogacy arrangements.
Ms Whyte and Mr Malone opted to implant three embryos fertilised with Mr Malone's sperm -- and eggs from a separate female donor in India -- into the surrogate's womb to boost their chances of a successful pregnancy.
As a result, the surrogate, who was paid just 20pc of the overall fee, was carrying triplets.
But one of the embryos was subjected to "foetal reduction", or termination, because the clinic does not allow surrogates to carry triplets.
The foetal reduction procedure was carried out when a radiologist "stops the heart of one of the babies", according to Dr Kaushal Kadam, founder of the Corion Clinic in Mumbai.
Ms Whyte and Mr Malone speak of the dilemma posed by the clinic's strict ban against triplets.
"We took a gamble, but we really, really wanted it to work and we felt we were increasing our chances by going for three (embryos)," said Ms Whyte.
"It was really on that basis that we went for it. We felt this was our last shot."
The couple also tell how twins Donal and Ruby, who were brought home to Ireland through a complex system of exit visas issued by the Indian authorities -- and emergency travel documents issued by the Irish Government -- are "stateless" because they have neither Indian nor Irish citizenship.
The film, 'Her Body, Our Babies' details the lack of regulation of surrogacy in Ireland and India, which has become the destination of choice for couples paying for commercial surrogacy. It airs weeks ahead of a hearing by a full, seven-judge Supreme Court of a landmark surrogacy action.
Last year, the High Court ruled that a genetic mother of twin girls -- born to the woman's sister who acted as surrogate -- could be named as their mother on their birth certificates.
But the Government, which has appeared twice before the European Court of Justice in 2013 in relation to surrogacy matters, has appealed the High Court ruling.
Despite a 2005 report on assisted human reproduction (AHR), there are no laws in this country governing a range of sensitive reproductive issues such as surrogacy, IVF treatment and embryonic stem cells.
Hundreds of families with children born via surrogacy are in legal limbo as they seek clarity from the courts.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter is preparing a new Family Relationships and Children Bill that will address certain aspects of the law on surrogacy.
Both the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority have secured permission from the Supreme Court to make arguments the appeal.
"The Irish Government needs to wake up and do something about it because it (commercial surrogacy) is happening," said solicitor Marion Campbell who has advised Irish couples engaged in overseas commercial surrogacies.
We've turned blind eye to this issue for far too long
IF you watch the documentary 'Her Body, Our Babies' on RTE tonight, you will most likely have mixed emotions about surrogacy.
You will be moved by the plight of a couple from west Clare who paid €30, 000 for five years of failed IVF treatment.
Desperate to have a family together (they separately have children from previous relationships), this couple embarks on a rollercoaster journey to India to find a young surrogate to carry their child.
Fiona Whyte and Sean Malone are aware that the young woman they choose through a commercial clinic in Mumbai -- there is an entire a menu of potential egg donors and surrogates -- is living in the depths of poverty.
The young surrogates explain, pitifully, how they are motivated to carry another couple's child to help pay for the cost of raising their own children.
Wherever you stand on the abortion spectrum, you will be deeply uncomfortable by the fact that a viable embryo with a beating heart is terminated because the Indian clinic does not allow its surrogates to carry triplets.
It is a dilemma that Fiona and Sean struggle with as part of their bid to have a child -- twins as it turns out -- through commercial surrogacy in a country that appears to provide little protection for some of its most vulnerable citizens.
No time to bond, the babies are swept away as surgeons attend to the birth mother who has performed her part of the €25,000 contract -- for 20pc of the fee.
After six weeks, exit visas are secured for the twins, who do not have Indian citizenship even though they are born there.
The twins, who are not Irish citizens either, are then welcomed home at Dublin Airport after the Irish authorities -- who do not regulate surrogacy in any way -- issue emergency travel documents.
Ultimately 'Her Body, Our Babies' will leave you with a deep sense of anger at the failure of the Irish authorities to regulate IVF and surrogacy.
Successive governments have turned a blind eye to the reality that hundreds of couples, gay and straight alike-- as well as single mothers -- are bringing home babies that are stateless and who do not have full legal relationships with those raising them. We have, once again, kicked the issue to touch and are leaving it up to the judiciary to deal with.
Next month the Supreme Court will sit as a full, Constitutional court, to hear a landmark appeal involving an Irish couple who also had twins via a surrogate, this time the genetic mother's sister.
It is inexcusable that our lawmakers have not dealt with the issue before now.
Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor